Distance Learning in the Music Classroom

Every year it seems that more and more constraints are being put on the school schedule because of “No Child Left Behind” and high stakes testing.  Add to this the expanding AP and IB course offerings as well as specialized “singleton” elective courses and it becomes next to impossible to get the students we need into the ensembles that best meet their needs.

For the last few years, I have been seeing increasingly clear “writing on the wall” that we must begin to change the way we deliver instruction in the music classroom.  Certainly, more general and electronic music is needed- taking a cue from what is happening in in the UK for example- however I think that the large ensemble is still a vital part of music education and we must adapt to the changing educational landscape.

It is becoming increasingly easy to communicate asynchronously at a distance using one of the many open source technologies that are being developed as part of “Web 2.0” or “The Read/Write Web”.  I believe that the direction we need to be investigating is reaching those students who cannot schedule class regularly but still wish to be part of our ensembles.  Using a blog along with a podcast of essential concepts that we deliver in our classrooms could be a way to enable students to participate in the class “on demand”.  For example, you could record (audio and/or video) your rehearsal and podcast it along with comments and supplemental materials (web resources for clarifying concepts, etc.) for students that cannot take the class.  It would then be necessary for them to participate in the group in a weekly rehearsal (possibly in the evening) to work on ensemble skills that cannot be conveyed through other means.  This is similar to community bands and orchestras across the country that are very fine, yet only meet once a week.

The difference between these fine semi-professional groups and our student groups is that they understand how to practice and most are accomplished musicians.  Our students must be taught how to practice and need constant feedback in order to improve.  Through various forms of electronic communication, I believe that this may be possible.  The key is sharing our best musicians with each other and allowing them to tutor our lower level musicians over distance.  I may have a first-rate clarinet section, but my trumpet section is weak.  You may have a strong trumpet section and your students can mentor my students to improve.  My clarinet students can do the same for you…the possibilities are exciting!  Of course, another “set of ears” for your full band rehearsal couldn’t hurt- directors could communicate in the same way.

To this end, I am seeking music educators to partner in a distance learning experiment to explore the possibility of this type of distance learning.  Call it “No Band Student Left Behind” if you will.  We all have many levels of musicians in our programs.  My idea is to allow the networking of our finest musicians to tutor and support our lower level musicians.  This system is loosely based on the Japanese system of the “band club”.  In Japan, band is totally outside of the regular school day, and more advanced musicians instruct less advanced musicians, making it possible to make incredible progress in a short amount of time.  Their system relies on 3 to 5 hour rehearsals every day after school and on weekends.  I don’t know about you, but this is just not practical for me.  What IS practical is allowing our bright and capable students to do what they do best- socialize!  By providing direction, we can utilize their natural curiosity and digitally native skills to the benefit of our programs.

If you are interested in joining this effort, please email me at owenbradley@gmail.com  as always, I am eager to hear your comments.

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